The Gazette covers City Hall, now a flood-damaged icon on May's Island in the Cedar River

Final chapter in city’s electric-bus boondoggle coming to an end on GovDeals.com

In City Hall on March 28, 2008 at 5:24 pm

 The city’s grand experiment with electric-powered buses went bust several years ago, and a line of nine mothballed buses has been sitting in a fenced-in lot along railroad tracks for a few years now.

At the same time, the city has worried that it might have to pay the Federal Transit Administration back about $2 million, which was the amount the federal government contributed to the $2.65-million cost of the buses.

As Brad DeBrower, the city’s transit manager since last summer has said, the FTA expects that buses it helps to purchase to run at least 12 years and log 500,000 miles.

The nine electric buses, which were purchased between 1995 and 1998, have mileage totals ranging from 6,601, 8,794 and 9,013 miles on the low end and 24,730 miles on the high end, DeBrower has said.

“Scary low” is the way he has put it.

This week, though, DeBrower was happy to report that the FTA has concluded that the city cannot be faulted for its electric bus experiment and that technology had passed the effort by.

The FTA also now has given the city permission to unload the nine buses, which the city is in the process of doing.

Specifically, the city uses an ebay-like, online auction system for government property called GovDeals.com.

And by noon Friday, that city had received nine bids, the high of which was $18,000 for all nine buses.

If you want the latest, go to the city’s Web page, hit departments, then purchasing services, and see the GovDeals item there.

Judy Lehman, the city’s purchasing services manager, reports that the city started the bidding at $10,000 and will take anything above that for the buses.

“They have to pick them up,” she emphasizes.

The genesis for the city’s experiment with electric buses came back in 1993. It was launched in 1996 as the Cedar Rapids Electric Transportation Consortium, with the city, IES Industries Inc., Westinghouse Electric Corp. and Blue Bird Corp, all signed on.

Two federal grants totaling $7.5 million helped finance the project to see if electric batteries could fuel a fleet of buses in a place with cold winters.

The technology, it turned out, failed.

In a Gazette story last summer, Fred Rossow, a senior electrical engineer at Rockwell Collins who worked for the city and managed the city’s electric bus program from 1998 to early 2005, said  the chief problem with the buses was with an electronic drive system that never worked correctly. The batteries were a problem, too, as was the battery pack, which weighed two tons and could not be easily changed out, Rossow said.

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  1. So, after turning out the transportation director who was reaching into the future to buy these buses, it seems appropriate to say something positive for his efforts. The former transportation director at least attempted to keep the city appropriately involved with the newest technology and it was the technology that failed and not the transportation director. Now that the buses have been released by the Fed for sale with no repercussions on the cities budget, maybe they need to rethink why they dumped a person who was going out on a limb to keep us ahead of the curve technology wise, and doing his all to get that technology at an affordable price, often paid for with Federal money and not the cities.

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